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The Gunstringer preview: Kinect goes 'hardcore'


I just played the first "hardcore" Kinect game. Sitting down, even.

Even in its incomplete state, Twisted Pixel's The Gunstringer is the best evidence that Microsoft's motion sensing tech can make possible a (so far) really fun game that already plays great and responds to subtle, natural movements with high precision. It's a game where you control a marionette with one hand and shoot with the other, and I can't imagine the experience feeling more authentic.

Gallery: The Gunstringer (2/24/11) | 5 Photos

The Gunstringer kicks off with an audience -- of real people -- sitting down in Austin's Paramount Theater to watch a puppet show, inter-cut with scenes of the Twisted Pixel crew rushing around with props for the opening scene: the revenge-fueled star of the game rising from the grave. He did just that when I reached out my left hand and yanked him out of the ground.

It's kind of crazy to think that this is an XBLA game.

What followed was a "guided" run through a vibrant Old West setting, heavily stylized with the aim of making everything look like it was happening on stage. In fact, every now and again I'd see real people reaching into the scene to set down various props, reminiscent of the live-action elements integrated into Comic Jumper. The effect is every bit as wild and impressive as it sounds, really reinforcing the feeling of reaching into this world to interact with it.

I was able to strafe left and right while running with subtle movements of my left hand, sweeping the on-screen crosshairs over enemies using my right, highlighting them in the process. A quick flick of the wrist -- I chose to pretend I was shooting with my hand -- and I shot the bad guys (and sheep and vultures) dead. It just worked, and none of the control involved exaggerated movements. Most impressive, though, was how accurately the motions I was making with my hands were reflected on screen.

From time to time, the game threw obstacles my way that I either had to doge or jump over, the latter action requiring only a simply upward tug with my left hand. Again, there was no perceptible lag with any of this -- nice and tight. After running for a bit, the gameplay would switch up, with the Gunstringer automatically taking cover behind crates and boulders. In these instances, I could mark enemies using my right hand and shoot them after using my left hand to pop in and out of their line of fire.

In addition to the animals and desperadoes I was taking out while running and gunning, I had the chance to square off against one of the bosses -- the ex-posse of the main character who betrayed him -- in the form of a giant (I'm talking 100-foot-tall) "wavy arm guy," one of those things you see outside car dealerships and crazy sales. This involved a lot of moving from cover to cover, something the game does for you, and avoiding his massive, pounding appendages.

Speaking of pounding: The second stage I played gave me a chance to try out "ground pound" and melee moves. Making a punching motion with my right hand resulted in a spin-kick move, and bringing my right fist down with a slamming motion triggered a live-action arm to punch the ground on-screen, destroying everything in my path.

It's kind of crazy to think that this is an XBLA game, given the (seemingly) big-budget presentation, but I suppose that's something Twisted Pixel has been working toward since The Maw: downloadable games with retail production values.

I can say this, so far: the developer definitely has a grasp on what it takes to make Kinect viable in a "real" game. The biggest challenge I can see is keeping The Gunstringer's gameplay varied and engrossing enough for the entirety of the experience. But I think that if any developer working on Kinect can manage that, Twisted Pixel's it.

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